“I have tried to create work that shows my own way of seeing the world”, says Johannesburg-based photographer and artist, Brett Rubin. “I am not particularly interested in trying to copy contemporary styles and trends, but do often like to pay homage to those who have inspired me”.
Brett works both independently and as the other half of creative concepts company, VATIC (with Nicole Van Heerden). Growing up, Brett was drawn to music. Yet it was the photographs inside his favourite bands’ album sleeves that really captivated his imagination. During film school he took up a night course in darkroom printing, and began practicing as a photographer straight after.
“Knowing you want to do something and actually getting to a point of doing it, as a career, is always a journey”, Brett explains by way of discussing his approach. He holds chance and spontaneity, and a carefully planned composition in equal regard. Yet his overarching concern is with experimentation: “Experimentation is always crucial as it’s the best way to expand your vocabulary of visual communication,” he says. This sentiment is most obviously apparent in a series of works created over a four year period that explore the idea of our ability to interact with and remember the spaces we pass through at high speed whilst travelling from one place to another. In these photographs, landscapes blur into almost abstract colour fields. They were taken through the window of a moving car, with no post-editing. A selection of these images are included in the NIROX Sculpture | Winter 14 exhibition that opened at the beginning of May.
Showing photography work on a sculpture show illustrates the apparent ease with which Brett straddles genre divides. His work characteristically occupies a surprising space in the murky divide between ‘commercial’ and ‘art’.
To better elucidate this, he explains: “My personal work is often created in the ‘first person’, based on my own experiences, thoughts, feelings, etc. […] When working for a client there is often a very different dynamic at play, the idea being that you are hired, based on your style and skill, to execute a brief that is often defined by various factors of commerce”. He goes on to site Helmut Newton who referred to himself as “a gun for hire’, and how he believes that Newton actually managed to subvert this in his work. Brett thereby concludes that the sphere one is working in, be it commercial or private, should not dictate the beauty or creativity of an image so long as you understand the paradigms of each.
Brett is well known for his portraits, which again, push against the boundaries of fashion editorial. He achieves this by using colour, shape and form to enhance mood or narrative and defy the predictable. Brett is inspired by the precise geometry and design that is found in nature, and echoed in the world around us. “I have always been fascinated with how we as a society constantly construct and display the cultural paradigms of our times into a visual identity”, he explains, “in everything we do from architecture to fashion, art, packaging and design – all of these are inadvertently political, historical and sometimes even sexual statements”.
[This article was adapted from the interview I did with the artist on Between 10and5 in May 2014.]